Scuttlebutt - Gossip from the water barrel

Island Life-- Women of the Torpedo Station

When I first started mentioning to people the Torpedo Station on the corner of the North Arm of the Port River, I was told its existence was a myth. It does seem unlikely. However, I knew it was there because my Great grandfather, Chief Petty Officer Henry Perry, was the station caretaker.

Grandpa (Harry Perry, Henry’s oldest son) and I had jumped off the boat one day and walked through the black mud and mangroves to find the surveyors’ pegs that “Newhaven” Symonds had placed at the station. This was back when he was trying to convince the citizens of Adelaide that the main harbour should be on the North Arm, rather than further south along the River where it is now.

My great grandmother Harriet Hibbs, who was born in London around 1870, lived and raised her children at the Torpedo Station. They lived in a small dwelling attached to the powder magazine for about 20 years. Harriet and her husband Henry had six children; Eliza (Tot), Mabel, Harry, Hilda, Mary and Edith. They called their home “the island”, because their only connection with people, schools, markets and shops was by rowing into Port Adelaide. (Or sailing, if the wind permitted.) The children used to row or sail to a spot across from LeFevre School and run barefoot across the sandhills to school. Shopping trips were by boat; usually rowing into Port Adelaide and tying up near the ferry steps.

Henry was drafted to South Australia’s first colonial warship HMCS Protector in 1900, off to China to help the British in the Boxer Rebellion.  He signalled with Semaphore flags to his children as the ship sailed down the River past their home. The children lined up on their jetty to wave goodbye to their Dad.  The older girls, who knew how to use Semaphore, signalled back to him; “Goodbye and good luck, Dad”. When he returned he brought fascinating souvenirs from China; an opium pipe, some dolls’ furniture, small paintings on bamboo, and a  yawning budda statue– something for everyone.

Aunty Mary related the story of how if they were short of food, the girls would grab a couple of sticks of dynamite and a match, jump into a dinghy and go and get fish. Aunty Mary was the second youngest of the children. She can be seen in the photograph ’Perry sisters at the Torpedo Station’.

Blog post submitted by Jan Perry, SA Maritime Museum Curatorial Volunteer

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